CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians were able to avoid the need for a fourth starter in their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
They won’t be so lucky in the American League Championship Series.
The Indians do not currently plan to use any starters on short rest in their upcoming ALCS matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays, a best-of-seven series which opens on Friday night at Progressive Field, but the team’s decision to use a four-man rotation will force Cleveland to go a little unconventional after their first three starters.
“[Mike] Clevinger is penciled in to throw Game 4,” Indians manager Terry Francona revealed prior to Wednesday’s workout in Cleveland, adding that Clevinger would be available in relief if necessary in the first three games of the upcoming series.
“It’s not that we’re not moving somebody up if we win a game or lose a game. [Clevinger is] supposed to pitch… We reserve the right to make a change if we need to.”
The 25-year-old rookie right-hander posted a 5.26 ERA in 53 innings with the Indians this season, making 10 starts and appearing seven times out of the bullpen this season for Cleveland.
After being recalled from Triple-A in August, he owned a 4.17 ERA over 36 2/3 frames down the stretch, walking 20 and recording 36 strikeouts.
Clevinger, who didn’t pitch in the team’s first-round series against the Red Sox, is not currently stretched out to go a normal starter’s length, meaning Game 4 will feature a short outing by Clevinger and several pitching changes.
A bullpen-anchored day in Game 4 will not be far removed from the way Cleveland patched together their rotation in the final month following injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
But short of using their starters on three days rest, Cleveland believes this strategy serves them best in the longer series.
“You see at times where people have guys going on short rest, which we were certainly willing to do with Trevor [Bauer in the ALDS],” Francona said. “I think right now, we feel like our best way to win this series is to allow those first three to pitch two games and then pitch Clev in which would be the fourth game.”
From the outside, the idea of using a bullpen day with a shot at advancing to the World Series on the line could appear disastrous. It’s just not a formula many teams try to purposefully use in October. And if the Indians had their choice, they likely wouldn’t either.
But the Tribe has had plenty of experience with the unique style of piecing a pitching puzzle together.
Cleveland turned to a bullpen day in Toronto following a 19-inning win over the Blue Jays earlier this season. Ineffectiveness in the rotation also led to the Tribe using the strategy in the final months of the regular season.
And the Indians were even forced to stretch their pen to their limit when Carrasco was hurt on the second pitch of a September game against the Detroit Tigers, using eight different relief hurlers to cover 10 scoreless innings.
Team president Chris Antonetti feels like the experiences gained by the pen in similar situations during the regular season should help prepare the group for the hostile environment that awaits in Game 4.
“We’ve had all different types of games, from the extra-inning game in Toronto to the game when Carlos left after two pitches,” Antonetti said. “There’s not too much our guys haven’t handled, and I think they’re prepared and ready to go pitch when it’s their turn, whenever Tito calls upon them.”
Despite the potential anarchy of a bullpen day in Game 4, the opening three games of the series will not feature any surprises for Cleveland.
Corey Kluber will take the ball in Friday’s ALCS opener at Progressive Field, following by Trevor Bauer in Game 2 and Josh Tomlin in Game 3.
Kluber gave his club seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS vs. Boston, locking down the AL’s top offensive club in his playoff debut.
Bauer, meanwhile, yielded three runs in 4 2/3 innings vs. Boston in the series opener, and Tomlin surrendered a pair over five solid frames in Monday’s deciding Game 3 at Fenway Park.
First pitch on Friday night is set for just after 8:00 p.m. at Progressive Field.
Following Saturday’s Game 2 in Cleveland (4:08 p.m ET), the series will shift to Toronto for the next three games before returning to Progressive Field for potential Games 6 and 7, if necessary.
The entire postseason schedule can be found here.